Several years ago, knowing that my daughter suffers from motion sickness and facing a trans-Atlantic flight, I armed myself with the requisite Dramamine and the intent to dispense it liberally. Timing, of course, was key; I didn’t want to give it to her too early, only to have it wear off just in time for landing. Accordingly and somewhat smugly, I waited until we had boarded the plane (“Anyone with small children may board at this time…”) to dip into my handbag pharmacy on my daughter’s behalf. As I handed the pill to my daughter, she dutifully asked whether she could chew it or if she had to swallow it whole. I responded airily, “Oh, you can chew it, honey. I made sure I bought the chewable kind for you.” Watching the contortions of her face as she bit into the pill, I knew I had made a mistake. Disgusted and angry, she spat out the remnants of the now-chewed, swallow-it-whole-variety pill. Calmly and clearly, my lovely daughter shouted, “Mom! You just gave me POISON! Why did you give me POISON? I AM NOT EATING POISON!” When I mustered the courage to cast a furtive glance at the other passengers on the now almost fully loaded airplane, I found almost every one of them glaring at me.
If you’ve ever doubted the power of words to instantly influence perceptions, consider this story. It still makes me laugh today, but it’s a terrific illustration of how quickly a situation can turn into something you didn’t expect, all because of a few well-placed (or misplaced) words. In so many cases, the truth has little to do with it; perception is reality.